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- Job Description
- Top 10
- How to Get There
If you love animals, have a knack for science and enjoy communicating, this may be the job for you. Veterinarians are doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and preservation of animals' health. Most vets deal with domestic animals -- animals that live in homes with humans. Other vets work in zoos, stables or "the field" -- the animals' natural habitats.
A veterinarian's work requires excellent problem-solving skills. Because their patients can't explain their illness or discomfort through speech, vets must study their patients' health carefully and ask many questions of their patients' owners in order to determine possible causes for sickness or injury.
FURRY FRIENDS: Veterinarians spend at least eight years learning all the basic information required to go into practice. Unlike human healthcare doctors, vets' patients come to them feathered, furry and covered in scales, and each one has a unique system with its own special needs. Here are 10 types of animals and some of the major health concerns vets and owners face in caring for them.
BIRD BRAIN: One common health concern for bird owners and their vets is bloody feathers, known as pin feathers, which won't heal on their own and must be removed. Other concerns include the transmission of diseases from bird to owner -- known as zoonotic diseases -- and inhalants such as potpourris, incense and aromatic plants that could endanger a bird in its own home. Otherwise, the most common problems faced by bird caretakers are the ingestion of foreign substances such as paint chips, poisonous insects or indigestible foods.
KITTY DITTY: Common health concerns for cat owners are feline leukemia, allergic reactions to insect bites and stings, infections from gum and tooth decay, obesity from overfeeding and kidney failure. Indoor or "house" cats are likely to live longer than outdoor cats, which come in contact with more threats, more often. Vets have plenty of suggestions for cat owners that can reduce the chances of early feline fatality.
HAVE A COW: Common cow ailments are edema or swelling of the udder caused by the accumulation of excessive fluids from improper circulation, mastitis, a bacterial illness resulting in a swollen udder dispensing diseased milk and Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). FMD is a farm veterinarian's worst nightmare as it is highly contagious, can be carried by the wind up to 50 miles and can paralyze food production in an entire country if left unchecked.
DOG DAYS: The most common health concerns for dogs are parasites such as fleas that can irritate and infect a dog's skin (its largest organ), overheating and dehydration. Another frequent problem is ingestion of foreign and inhospitable objects such as household rags or small toys. Dogs undergo deworming, fecal examinations and receive dental care to prevent other debilitating diseases.
FISHY FACTS: Common health problems for freshwater fish are eye infections that can easily be caused by murky water and "Ich" -- or white spot disease -- caused by the parasite Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. Fish illnesses have many possible causes and require examination by a vet for diagnosis and treatment.
HAMSTER HEAD: Common and devastating illnesses for hamsters include "wet tail," a symptom of serious bacterial infection to a hamsters' abdominal tract, "mange," a skin disease caused by parasitic bites and allergies caused by exposure to inhospitable sawdust from cedar or other aromatic woods.
HORSING AROUND: The most common horse ailments an owner must consider are colic, frostbite -- which can lead to devastating pain -- and Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), which is not contracted by horses, but can be carried by them to be passed to other animals with serious implications. Horses can also contract abdominal disorders caused by virus, indigestion or parasite.
RABBIT HABITS: The most common rabbit ailments are devastating to the animal and usually result in death. Mucoid enteropothy is a fast killing diarrhea that affects only rabbit babies (or "kittens") often in less than 24 hours. Vets do not know what causes it and have no cure, but they are busy studying the disease in hopes of combating it in the future. Blood-sucking insects like fleas and mosquitoes spread myxomatosis, which can devastate entire rabbit populations in one season; the best protection a vet can provide is vaccination, which is why it is important for your rabbit to be introduced to medical care early in life.
SNAKE CHARMS: Common health problems for snakes are usually related to shedding and can be easily recognized by sensitive owners. Skin spots and sores, partial shedding and the retention of eye caps -- the protective layer that develops before shedding -- are dangerous and ought to be addressed by a veterinarian.
TURTLE TIME: Most turtle ailments are caused by improper diet and lack of sunlight. Shell fungus, soft shell, eye infection and respiratory ailments are common and are best avoided by close replication of a turtle's natural habitat.
How to Get There
Don't Just Monkey Around!
- Make friends. A good vet is comfortable around all types of creatures. It's never too early to introduce yourself to animals, their behavior, their methods of communication and their needs. Local petting zoos, pet stores, kennels and some farms and stables are open to visitors and can be great places to acquaint yourself with a wide range of animals.
- Take care. If you can't have a pet of your own, volunteer to care for a classroom pet or to pet-sit for a neighbor. Ask for clear directions and learn about any particular health issues such as allergies and food preferences ahead of time. Make sure you are prepared with information about who to call in the event of an emergency.
- Research and learn. Use your library and the Internet to discover how different animals have evolved over time and to discover more about their common ailments and how to care for them.
- Volunteer. Many kennels, vet clinics, stables and farms will take on volunteers interested in animals and animal health care. Volunteering affords you the opportunity to watch animal health care in action and can teach you many things you may not otherwise be able to find through research in books or on the Internet.
- Use your head. Never put yourself in a dangerous position with an animal you don't know. Animals have minds of their own and can move suddenly and viciously if made to feel threatened.
- Study your science. Take special care in your science classes as these will make up the foundation for your future success in veterinary medicine. Make concerted efforts to brave dissections, as they are a good chance to learn about animal anatomy and even veterinary surgery.
Surfing Safari: For this activity, you are going to use your own knowledge of your home and a little Internet research to assist you in determining the best type of pet for you and what it would take for you to keep that pet happy and healthy.
The first thing to consider is YOU. What kind of lifestyle and home can you provide as an owner? At the top of a piece of paper, write the heading "Me and My Home."
Copy the following statements under this heading, and fill in the blanks with the appropriate phrases for each.
I live in a/an _____________ (apartment, house)
I ___________ have a yard. (do, do not)
I spend ____________ time at home each day. (a little, a lot of)
I have a ___________ at my home. (shower and/or tub)
My family _____________ prone to allergies. (is, is not)
My parent(s)/guardian(s) ____________ spend(s) a lot of time at home each day. (do, do not, does, does not)
I __________ have baby siblings at home. (do, do not)
My home _____________ get a lot of sunlight indoors. (does, does not)
The floors in my home are mostly _____________. (carpeted, bare)
My home is ________________. (crowded, roomy)
The weather where I live is mostly _________________. (warm, cold, dry, humid)
Around my home there _________________ a lot of wild animals or insects. (are, are not)
In my home I _____________ other pets. (have, don't have)
Under this section write another heading, "Deductions." Consider each statement you've written under "Me and My Home" and for each statement, write a corresponding "Deductions" statement that explains how the above information impacts your candidacy as a pet owner.
For example, if your second "Me and My Home" statement reads:
I do not have a yard.
Your second "Deductions" statement might be:
My home is not ideal for a pet that likes to play outside in the grass, or;
My home is best suited for a pet that likes to stay indoors.
After you've completed your "Me and My Home" and deductions statements, you should have a good foundation from which to form a list of pets that would thrive in your environment.
For the next step, you'll need to sit at a computer and use the Internet to search for further information on each of your possible pets.
First, take a fresh sheet of paper for each animal on your list, and write the name of one animal at the top of each piece of paper. Create five columns on each "Animal Sheet," and label each column with one of the following headings:
Now, use your favorite search engine to search by the pet name and column heading. For example, your search term might be "cat habitat."
Record your findings under the appropriate column heading as you research each type of pet and its respective needs.
Next, on the back of each of your animal sheets, create the heading "Special Needs." Under this heading, make a list of everything you would need to buy to prepare your home for the addition of this pet. For example, on the back of the sheet labeled "Cat," your list might look like this:
- Litter box
- Cat litter
- Food and water bowls
- Wet and dry food
- Flea medicine
- Special treats
- Nail clippers
The last step is to figure the best three-way matches of pet, you and your home environment. Look at your deductions list and compare it to the information you gathered in the five columns on each animal sheet to determine whether your home and habits will make a match for each type of animal.
This exercise ought to give you a good sense of what it takes to care for various pets' basic needs. Pet owners assist veterinarians every day by preparing and maintaining the optimum environments and routines for animals' daily lives. As you can see, animal care is a lot like human care: health starts at home.
Q & A
In your opinion, what is the single most important character trait for a successful veterinarian, and what makes it so crucial?
Sylvia R. is a student of veterinary medicine and will be practicing in Marblehead, Mass. She says:
A veterinarian's ability to empathize is not just important; it's critical to functioning effectively as a veterinary physician. Animals can't describe their symptoms, so those who treat them often have to rely on very subtle signs to determine what's wrong. A slight change in posture, a barely-perceptible alteration in skin tone, a little wince when a certain place is touched -- all of these signs can speak volumes to someone who is familiar with animal ailments. The ability to put these signals together with diagnostic aids such as X-rays and blood tests are what allows the veterinarian to come to a conclusion about the nature of the problem and the most appropriate cure.
Additionally, most animals instinctively mask signs of illness or pain because, in the wild, any weakness makes an animal a target for predators. Veterinarians who wish to alleviate pain and discomfort in their patients often have to interpret very vague clues in order to respond appropriately and dispense the right medications in appropriate doses.
Physical pain isn't the only consideration. Animals in hospital environments are frightened, disoriented and subject to stresses that can severely impact their ability to recover from an injury or illness. A good veterinarian makes every effort to identify sources of stress for each animal and to alleviate them wherever possible. Supplying a chew toy for a dog, a hiding-box for a bunny or encouraging an owner's visits can make all the difference for some patients.
Finally, it's also important to empathize with the humans who come into a veterinary practice. For many, their animals are like their children and seeing them sick or in pain may make an owner distraught. Few animals have health insurance and financial pressures may add to the owner's emotional burden. A veterinarian's ability to communicate effectively and compassionately with a distracted client may, in some cases, actually save a patient's life. Respecting the decisions that the owner makes may be a challenge, but it is an important responsibility.